I had improved myself as a skier by reading, so I read.
And what I discovered was bushido, the culture of ancient Japanese warriors, who espoused courage, simplicity, honor, and self-sacrifice. According to bushido, the best mind for the battlefield—or the race—is that of emptiness, or an empty mind. This doesn’t mean sleepiness or inattention; the bushido concept of emptiness is more like that rush of surprise and expansiveness you get under an ice-cold waterfall. The empty mind is a dominant mind. It can draw other minds into its rhythm, the way a vacuum sucks up dirt or the way the person on the bottom of a seesaw controls the person on the top. When I hear a runner say he “runs his own race,” what I hear is bushido.
Bushido is letting go of the past and the future and focusing on the moment. As Thoreau, an American practitioner (though he probably didn’t realize it) of bushido and a pretty good distance walker himself, wrote, “Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers . . . simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.” I created my own bushido exercises. I stood in icy rivers to strengthen my mind’s control over my body. I sat cross-legged and meditated, visualizing my breath, focusing.
Another part of bushido is mastery of the martial arts, an intensely concentrated study of one’s craft. My craft was running, and as I climbed those northwest mountains, I tried to do so with extreme focus. It’s easy to shut your brain off when you’re running long distances, and sometimes it’s necessary, but I stayed plugged in. I concentrated on running a particular section harder, on picking up speed downhill while I rested my heart and lungs.
Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness by Scott Jurek, Steve Friedman